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April 6th, 2011

The Fear of the Unknown Could Make Legislators Accept 1st Redistricting Plan

By Craig Robinson

Legislative leaders and other interested parties have had almost a week to chew on the redistricting plan that was unveiled last Thursday.  For as anticipated as the release of the proposed maps was, there have not been many negative words spoken about the plan from legislative leaders.  Yesterday, Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democrat Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy each hinted that they were not opposed to the first map.

In regards to the congressional maps, Republicans have grimaced over Congressman Steve King and Congressman Tom Latham being tossed together in the same district.  The proposed map doesn’t provide many options for King or Latham to move in order to avoid a contentious primary.  Congressman Bruce Braley and Congressman Dave Loebsack also share a new district, but Loebsack can move a few miles to rectify that problem.  In fact, Loebsack has already said he would move if the map were accepted.  He just needs to hope that Christie Vilsack doesn’t primary him.

Iowa Republicans have good reason to be dissatisfied with the congressional map.  If accepted, three of the four districts would have a Democrat voter registration edge.  In the 1st District, Democrats lead Republicans in voter registrations by almost 7 percent (27.54 percent Republican to 34.31 percent Democrat). In the 2nd District, Democrats lead Republicans in voter registrations by almost 8 percent (27.76 percent Republican to 35.36 percent Democrat). In the 3rd District, Democrats lead Republicans in voter registrations by just 0.63 percent (33.82 percent Republican to 34.45 percent Democrat). In the 4th District, Republicans lead Democrats in voter registrations by over 8 percent (35.77 percent Republican to 27.71 percent Democrat).

Republicans are confident that they could return both King and Latham to Congress if Latham moves to the new 3rd District, but its not going to be a walk in the park since President Obama is going to be on the top of the ticket in 2012.  The real problem with the congressional map is that it gives Iowa Democrats two really solid districts while Republicans only have one.

Having those two solidly Democrat Districts in eastern Iowa will make it difficult for Republicans to win statewide elections in the next decade if the plan in approved.  With U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin at the sunset of their careers and Branstad only being a short term solution in the governor’s office, the implications that this map could have on Iowa politics is immense and thus foolish to hastily write off.

While there has been plenty of discussion about the impact that the proposed plan would have on the congressional landscape, not much information has come out about how it effects Republican and Democrat legislators.  As is often the case, it’s a mixed bag.  As we saw in the comments the two House leaders made yesterday, the fear of the unknown is what is driving the discussion instead of what the current plan contains.

Since the legislative leaders in the Iowa House seems to be somewhat satisfied, or at least not opposed to the plan, has analyzed the districts with the data available (voter registration numbers) in hopes of providing a glimpse as to what the legislators (who have specialized software from the Legislative Services Agency for analyzing the proposed map) are basing their opinions on.

At first glance, the Iowa House plan seems to benefit Democrats in a major way.  Of the 100 House seats, 54 of them have a Democrat voter registration advantage, while only 46 seats have a Republican advantage in voter registration.  That may seem odd since there are 60 Republican members in the Iowa House and only 40 Democrats, but Democrats have a 38,486 edge on voter registration across the state.

Democrats benefit by only having three districts where their members are now in the same district, while that scenario occurs for Republicans nine times.  Despite having more seats with a Democrat registered voter advantage, there are only three Republican districts that are currently occupied by a Democrat legislator, while 13 Republicans occupy seats with a Democrat registered voter advantage.

Another important factor is open seats.  There are 14 Districts where there is currently no incumbent.  Seven of those Districts favor Democrats, and seven favor Republicans.  All seven of the Republicans leaning open seats should be easy for Republicans to obtain, and two of the seven Democrat leaning districts in southeast Iowa are also competitive for Republicans.

The deciding factor for House Republicans may come down to how good they feel about their 13 Republican incumbents who live in Democrat districts.  If they feel confident in their ability to hold those seats, the plan doesn’t look that bad.  If they are unsure about their ability to hold those seats, especially with Obama on the ballot in 2012, then they may want to consider scuttling the plan.

Of the 13 Republicans who would represent Democrat leaning districts, six of them, Representatives Lukan, Schulte, Wagner, Kaufman, Olsen, and Koester saw their districts get worse.  Three Republicans saw their districts basically remain the same, which is the case for Representatives Rasmussen, Paustian, and Massie.  And four, Representatives Pearson, Taylor, Baltimore, and Sands, saw their Districts improve.

While some of these legislators have held these seats for a length of time, others could end up on the short end of the stick with Obama on the ballot.  Rasmussen, Paustian, and Taylor all lost in their current districts in 2008.  Massie may find it difficult to win reelection in his district with Obama on the ballot since Kent Sorenson will not be on the ballot.  There are also retirements to consider.  Rep. Steve Olsen is a potential retirement as is Steve Luken, who is getting married in Des Moines later this year.

Even thought the voter registration numbers may not favor Republicans, they believe the map favors them because of Republican voter propensity, which is perhaps a better measure since it is more detailed than just looking at party registration statistics.  The one thing that complicates the picture that voter propensity provides is that the last three elections have been wave elections.  Do we really want to base our projections off of Republican turnout in 2010?  It was a great year for Republicans, just like 2006 and 2008 were for Democrats.  Those are high watermark years for Republican and Democrats, which means that the results were not typical.

A better gage may be the 2004 general election results.  That year saw President Bush win Iowa, and Republicans also held 4 of the 5 congressional seats in that election.  At the state level, Democrats gained seats in the Iowa House and Senate.  2004 was the last “normal” election year.   The only problem with that data is that it’s old.

Unless some sort of new data emerges that makes Iowa House redistricting map unbearable, it seems likely that Speaker Paulsen and Republicans will vote to approve the plan.  That would then put the map’s future in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

Like the House maps, the Senate plan has its advantages and disadvantages.  The plan is bad news for Senate President Sen. Jack Kibbie who would be tossed in with a Republican incumbent.  That District favors the Republicans by 20 points.  Another Democrat who would have trouble in his new district in 2012 is Sen. Tom Rielly, whose District now has a 12-point Republican advantage

Other Democrat incumbents who have Republican leaning Districts include, Senators Ragan, Danielson, Dandekar, and Sodders.  The plan also includes seven open seats.  Four of those seats have a Republican registered voter advantage and another seat is a toss up.

The Senate plan is also difficult for some Republicans.  Three sets of Republicans find themselves in districts with one of their Republican colleagues.  Sen. Bill Dix finds himself in an oddly shaped district with another freshman Republican, Sen. Rob Bacon.  One option that could happen is Dix moving to District 12 to challenge Sen. Schoenjahn, which would give Republicans another good pick up opportunity.

Sen. Merlin Bartz and Sen. Pat Ward are in districts that have a Democrat registered voter advantage as well as a Democrat incumbent.  Other Republican senators who represent areas that have a Democrat advantage are Sen. Rick Bertrand, Sen. Sandy Greiner, Sen. Mark Chelgren as well as Sen. Jim Hahn and Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck who are in the same district.   The good news for Republicans is that, under this plan, two of the three most vulnerable Republicans, Bertrand and Chelgren are not up for re-election in 2012 and neither is Greiner.

Gronstal is in a tough spot.  Regardless of how the map is drawn, Democrats like Kibbie and Rielly are likely to be in trouble, and he will not be able to touch Bertrand and Chelgren until 2014.  What Gronstal has going for him is that President Obama is on the ballot in the next general election, which could help him maintain control of seats that would be other wise difficult for Democrats to hold.  With only a one-seat advantage, it is going to be difficult for Gronstal to keep his majority, but if he can limit the damage, 2014 will provide him with good opportunities to pick up seats.

Governor Terry Branstad can also nix the plan if he chooses.  If anyone cares about the impact the congressional map has, it’s probably Branstad.  The Governor also has an interest in having a legislative chamber that works with him to implement his agenda, and thus far, it seems like the Iowa House and the Governor’s office are not on the same page.  That could make Branstad more interested in winning a Republican majority in the Senate than maintaining the huge Republican majority in House.

Still, it is difficult to foresee Branstad vetoing a proposal that the Republican House and Democrat Senate both approved.  If the plan is rejected, the Legislative Services Agency has 35 days to submit a new plan to the legislature.

The public hearings around the state are not drawing much attention.  Only 30 people attended the meeting in Bettendorf last night.  That, combined with the legislature’s fear of the unknown, seems to indicate that this plan may be approved.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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